Reconstruction Was a Horror in Texas!
When I first began to study and ask questions about Texas during the Reconstruction Period, I received the impression that all went rather smoothly. Texans accepted the federal troops, freed the slaves, and continued with their business, I was told.
What an incredible lie! The following book has some of the facts:
Richter, William L., Overreached on All Sides. The Freedman's Bureau Administration in Texas 1865-1868. Texas A&M Univ Press, College station, 1991. For forty months, the Freedman's Bureau attempted to enforce the ideals of political liberty, and, to a lesser extent, economic liberty for African Americans in Texas. This book details their failure to stop lynchings, continued slavery, torture, rape, robbery, and illegal exploitation. The victorious North lacked both the material resources and the commitment to carry out these ideals.
Texans resisted mightily. For those seeking to document the racist atrocities perpetrated by white Texans during Reconstruction rather than believe the glossed-over histories we are usually offered, there are plenty of descriptions here. In fact, there is more blood than ink on these pages. Blacks and their grossly outnumbered white supporters were vilified, terrified, driven out, and murdered throughout the book while the tiny force of reconstructionists hurried from one part of the state to another seeking justice.
Northeast Texas was particularly bad.
But the book also contains many stories of men who made a great effort to bring justice to Texas. Their failure does not diminish their commitment nor valor.
Foner, Eric, “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution: 1863-1877” History Book Club by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1988
It’s amazing how one can see the roots of today’s problems in this important period of U.S. history. I'm writing this on Nov 14, 2016; the same day that Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO wrote that two Texas Legislators have decided that "states rights" still supersedes national law. They have filed two companion bills, SB 89 and SJR 7, by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Canton, that would provide for nullification of federal laws that Texas deems to violate the Constitution. HB 74 by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, is in a similar vein. By their thinking, the Emancipation Proclamation never took effect in Texas because the Texas Legislature didn't want it!
What most of us were told about reconstruction is that it was a failure and the fault was on the former slaves, who "just weren’t sophisticated enough to make their own way and handle all the gifts they were given." It’s an ugly view.
This author, on the other hand, talks about the real problems. He especially points to the role that the freedmen played in trying to win their own equality. In spite of criminal acts against them, including numerous mass murders, they managed to accomplish some things, and they laid the groundwork for the future civil rights gains.
Even though the author joins the chorus in branding American Reconstruction a failure, he points out that we did better than any other country that had emancipated its slaves, in that we granted them citizenship fairly soon. Also, he puts the main blame for failure on the economic crisis of the 1870s.
Even though the author doesn’t point it out, one can see how the Republican party evolved from one advocating “free labor” capitalism to one favoring big corporations and caring very little for anybody’s rights – all in a short space of time during the industrialization that followed the Civil War.
I was a little disappointed that there was so little about Texas, and nothing about Dallas. I had read elsewhere that the appointed head of the Freedman’s Burau in Dallas never made it to the city, but was murdered somewhere in East Texas while en route! About Reconstruction in Dallas, almost nothing is known. See Wikipedia -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dallas_(1856%E2%80%9373)
Here are some of the sentences from the book:
Pg 17: Texas “The (Republican) party’s Southern governors would include Edmund J Davis, who during the war raised the First Texas Cavalry for the Union Army…”
63 Texas “Jean-Charles Houzeau, one of the most remarkable men to take part in the saga of Reconstruction…” revolutionary. Journalist and astronomer who emigrated to Texas in 1858, sided with Unionists there early in the Civil War, and in 1865 arrived in Louisiana. Edited New Orleans Tribune.
97 education “Northern benevolent societies, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and, after 1868, state governments provided most of the funding for black education during Reconstruction. But the initiative often lay with blacks themselves…”
119 murder “In Texas, where the army and Freedmen’s Bureau proved entirely unable to establish order, blacks, according to a Bureau official, ‘are frequently beaten unmercifully, and shot down like wild beasts, without any provocation.’”
121 Texas “One black who refused to be bound and whipped, asserting that ‘he was a freeman and he would not be tied like a slave,’ was shot dead by his employer, a prominent Texas lawyer.”….
181 Johnson “Throughout his Presidency, Johnson held the view – not uncommon among Southern yeomen – that slaves had in some way joined forces with their owners to oppress nonslaveholding whites.”
195 Texans for Suffrage: “A handful of delegates, such as Texas Unionist Edward Degener, called for extending the suffrage to literate blacks, but in general the idea was scarcely contemplated.”
204 TX murder an inalienable right: “Texas courts indicted some 500 white men for the murder of blacks in 1865 and 1866, but not one was convicted. ‘No white man in that state has been punished for murder since it revolted from Mexico,’ commented a Northern visitor. ‘Murder is considered one of their inalienable state rights.’” The footnote is John A Carpenter, “Atrocities in the Reconstruction Period,” JNH, 47( Oct 1962)
205: “The convict lease system, moreover, which had originated on a small scale before the war, was expanded so as to provide employers with a supply of cheap labor. In Texas in 1867, blacks constituted about one third of the convicts confined to the state penitentiary, but nearly 90 percent of those leased out for railroad labor.”
218 Johnson/Jackson: “…Johnson’s hero, Andrew Jackson.” The same page says Johnson was a drunk.
235 40 acres: “In a speech to Pennsylvania’s Republican convention in September 1865, Stevens called for the seizure of the 400 million acres belonging to the wealthiest 10 percent of Southerners. Forty acres would be granted to each adult freedman and the remainder – some 90 percent of the total – sold ‘to the highest bidder’…” The book has several references to the idea of selling or giving land to freedmen. General Sherman did it on his march to Atlanta. Lincoln allowed it on the Carolina Islands and in a large area at a river junction. Johnson, however, had the soldiers remove all African Americans from their land.
243 Natives: On the Civil Rights Bill around 1866. “This defined all persons born in the United States (except Indians) as national citizens…”
279 Citizenship: “Alone among the nations that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century, the United States, within a few years of emancipation, clothed its former slaves with citizenship rights equal to those of whites.” I conclude from this that Reconstruction may have been a “failure,” but it was less of a failure than all the other countries that stopped slavery!
281 Strike 1867: “Strikes broke out among black longshoremen in Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Richmond and New Orleans, and quickly spread to other workers, including Richmond coopers and Selma restaurant waiters.”
282 Waco: “Throughout the South, planters complained of blacks neglecting their labor. Once a week during the summer of 1868, ‘the negroes from the entire county’ quit work and flocked to Waco, Texas, for political rallies.”
285 Tx back wages: “…some Texas leagues demanded back wages for blacks held in slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation.” //I think they mean “union leagues.”
297 Parsons: “…the party did gain the support of Gen. James Longstreet, whose example inspired some Confederate veterans to follow in his footsteps. One was Alabama-born Albert R Parsons, a descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims, who in 1867 established a Waco newspaper advocating black rights, and stumped central Texas for the Republicans.” //the footnote is Hamilton and William, eds., “Graham Papers” 7:533//
299 TX Germans: //Germans are mentioned here and there as scalawags, Southerners opposing the Confederacy.// “The Germans of Southwestern Texas comprised the largest bloc of immigrant Southern Republicans, helping to send to Congress Edward Degener, a San Antonio grocer who had taken part in the revolution of 1848, been imprisoned by Confederate authorities, and seen his two sons executed for treason.” //I googled him and found Wikipedia summary that said he settled in Sisterdale in 1850 and that his two sons were killed in the Nueces massacre. He joined in purchasing the land for the “true der union” monument in Comfort!//
342 KKK shut down, 1868 elections: //There’s a long list of mass murders and other atrocities.// “Unable to hold meetings and fearful that attempts to bring out their vote would only result in further massacres, Georgia and Louisiana Republicans abandoned the Presidential campaign.” (1868 I think)
//some nice photos in the middle of the book//
399 TX planters’ decline: “Planters constituted a large majority of the wealthiest Texans in 1860, but only 17 percent ten years later.”
437 Colfax massacre of 280 people: Apparently armed blacks tried to resist in Louisiana around 1873. “They attempted [armed self-defense] in Colfax. The result was that on Easter Sunday of 1873, when the sun went down that night, it went down on the corpses of two hundred and eighty negroes.”
Pg 440 Davis Suppressed Klan in TX: “By early 1869, order had been restored and the Klan destroyed. Davis proved equally decisive, organizing a crack two-hundred-member State Police, 40 percent of whose members were black. Between 1870 and 1872, the police made over 6,000 arrests, effectively suppressing the Klan and providing freedmen with a real measure of protection in a state notorious for widespread violence.”
480 Sylvis a racist? “William Sylvis, president of the Iron Moulder’s Union, toured the South early in 1869 recruiting members of both races, but simultaneously called the Freedmen’s Bureau, a ‘huge swindle upon the honest workingmen of the country’ and blamed carpetbaggers for the South’s woes.”
528 the Depression of 8173 – largely ended reconstruction: “Buffeted by the shifting tides of public opinion, p[reoccupied first with the economic depression and later with yet another wave of political scandals, the second Grant Administration found it impossible to devise a coherent policy toward the South…. Grant in his second term presided over a broad retreat from the policies of Reconstruction.” //there’s some point here where he refuses to use troops in Louisiana, and that’s the dividing line ending the Reconstruction era.//
531 Supreme Court racism: Slaughterhouse case of 1873. Supreme Court more or less re-affirmed states’ rights. “In the name of federalism, the decision rendered national prosecution of crimes committed against blacks virtually impossible, and gave a green light to acts of terror where local officials either could not or would not enforce the law.”
548 Grange excluded Blacks: Grange …”’really a political society’ which excluded blacks from membership and took an active part in mid-decade Redemption campaigns.”
549 Texas taken by Democrats in 1873: “Texas Democrat Richard Coke defeated Gov. Edmund J Davis in 1873 by a margin of better than two to one.” Texas had a massive influx of white immigrants that changed the demographics.
550 Assassinations! “The situation worsened in 1874 with the formation of the White League, openly dedicated to the violent restoration of white supremacy. It targeted local Republican officeholders for assassination, disrupted court sessions, and drove black laborers from their homes.”
556 Dawes’ early career: “”…the Massachusetts legislature elected Henry L Dawes to fill Sumner’s seat…” //Dawes comes up in my history again as author of legislation ending tribal ownership in Oklahoma -- thus opening up all Native lands to exploitation//
556: “Civil Rights Act” “Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1883…”
557 communists in 1875: Some guy in Ohio advocated Greenbackism and was accused os a “proponent of ‘communist revolution.’”
586 1877 strike and federal intervention: Author makes the point that federal govt had decided they didn’t need to intervene in local affairs and thus ended protection of blacks, but they had no qualms about intervening against workers during the general strike of 1877! “Thus, the upheaval marked a fundamental shift in the nation’s political agenda.”
587 Civil rts act of 1875 declared unconstitutional in 1883
603 Summary of failure. “Nonetheless, whether measured by the dreams inspired by emancipation or the more limited goals of securing blacks’ rights as citizens and free laborers, and establishing an enduring Republican presence in the South, Reconstruction can only be judged a failure.” He blames the depression of the 1870s. “None of these factors, however, would have proved decisive without the campaign of violence that turned the electoral tide in many parts of the South, and the weakening of Northern Resolve, itself a consequence of social and political changes that undermined the free labor and egalitarian precepts at the heart of Reconstruction policy.”
Pg 603: “Perhaps the remarkable thing about Reconstruction was not that it failed, but that it was attempted at all and survived as long as it did.”
609 Rewriting history: ‘This rewriting of Reconstruction’s istory was accorded scholarly legitimacy – to its everlasting shame – by the nation’s fraternity of professional historians.”
Pg 609: “The views of the Dunning School shaped historical writing for generations, and achieved wide popularity through DW Griffiths film, Birth of a Nation (which glorified the Ku KLUX Klan and had its premier at the White House during Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency)…”
612 accomplishments: family, church, and school. “Yet the institutions created or consolidated after the Civil war – the black family, school, and church – provided the base from which the modern civil rights revolution sprang. And for its legal strategy, the movement returned to the laws and amendments of Reconstruction. ‘The river has its bend, and the longest road must terminate’ Rev Peter Randolph a former slave, wrote these words as he dark night of injustice settled over the South. Nearly a century elapsed before the national again attempted to come to terms with the implications of emancipation, and the political and social agenda of Reconstruction. In many ways, it has yet to do so.” //end of book//
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William Sylvis, Pioneer of American Labor
The first national labor union federation was formed in 1866 by William Sylvis of the Molders’ Union. He made the molders a great union 1859-1868.
He was the main force in establishing the National Labor Union in Baltimore, August 1866. First national labor federation. He became its president 1868. Sylvis sacrificed his personal income and his health to unionism. His concept of unionism was far ahead of its time, and possibly ahead of ours. Here are some of the things that Sylvis advocated: end of convict labor, labor party, political action, restrictions on immigration, international cooperation of labor, 8 hour day, cutting hours to overcome unemployment, International labor unity, unity of races & nationalities, currency reform, universal suffrage, housing reform, ending tax exemptions for the wealthy, opposition to slavery, opposition to war, opposition to agribusiness and other monopolists, favored organizing the South. He had some successes with these demands during his own lifetime.
In 1864 he said, “I love this union cause. I love it more dear than I do my family or my life. I am willing to devote to it all that I am or have to hope for in this world!” Another excellent quote: “Man is a progressive animal. Progress is destined to go forward until… all mankind shall be free.”
Died 5:35 AM July 27, 1869. He was 41 years old and lacked money for a funeral or a burial plot, since he had always spent his meager income for union causes or loans to the unemployed. He was buried Laurel Hill Cemetery in Phila. Born 11/28/28. In his 41 years, Sylvis made himself the greatest contributor to the great American labor heritage. For more, click here
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Galveston Screwmen's Strike of 1882: Screwmen were powerful, highly skilled men whose job it was to use screw jacks to cram as much cotton as possible into the holds of ships. An expert crew could increase a ship's cargo by as much as 15 percent.
Twice members of the Screwmen's Benevolent Association struck because Negro workers had been hired to perform the same task. The union was successful in keeping their trade a white man's monopoly.
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Prior to the industrial revolution, virtually all work was agricultural work. People worked from sunup to sundown, 12 to 14 hours per day. Agricultural work was varied and intermittent, but industrial work was incessant. Nevertheless, the bosses tried to keep all workers on the old agricultural schedule. Unions fought hard to win the 12 hour day, then the 10 hour and the 8 hour. American workers are still celebrated the world over for having carried out the great 8-hour day struggle around May 1, 1886.
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Dubofsky, Melvin, and Van Tine, Warren, editors. Labor Leaders in America. Univ of Illinois. Urbana and Chicago, 1987. Has section on Sylvis by David Montgomery: "William H Sylvis and the Search for Working Class Citizenship."
Sylvis: "It is not what is done for people, but what they do for themselves, that acts upon their character and condition." (1865)
Pg 15: "What is wanted then is for every union to help inculcate the grand, ennobling idea that the interests of labor are one; that there should be no distinction of race or nationality; no classification of Jew of Gentile, Christian or Infidel; that there is but one dividing line -- that which separates mankind into two great classes, the class that labors and the class that lives by others' labor." --Conclusion of the Address of the National Labor Congress to the Workingmen of the United States (1869)
From: INTERNET:Janette357@aol.com, INTERNET:Janette357@aol.com
Date: 10/08/1999, 5:13 AM
Re: Re: Silvis, not Silvus
No matter how the name is spelled we all come from the same family. The name
is German and when my ancestors came to america in the mid 1700's the
americans spelled the name phonetically. This was the practice for many
years resulting in many different variations.
My great grandfathers name is spelled like mine, but his fathers name is
spelled differently. So could you please tell me what roll William Silvis
played in the union?
To: (unknown), labor
From: INTERNET:Janette357@aol.com, INTERNET:Janette357@aol.com
Date: 10/09/1999, 7:55 PM
Re: Re: Silvis, not Silvus
Thanks for the reply. I'm off to the library now to see if I can scrounge up
a picture. I have a picture that is not marked that I think is him, but I
need something to compare it with to confirm this.
I looked through all my old genealogy notes (what a mess) and thought you'd
like to know that the actual spelling of his last name was Sylvis. Like I
said, every generation had it's own spelling and it's gotten quite confusing.
My father was president of UAW for his local chapter (don't know the chapter
number). It was here in Kansas City, when he worked for the old Bendix
Grossman, Johnathan P., William Sylvis, Pioneer of American Labor. A Study of the Labor Movement During the Era of the Civil War. Columbia Univ, 1945-1973, 1986.**
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In the late 1980s, when they finally started widening Central Expressway in Dallas, they began to dig up bodies of African American people! It became evident that the original freeway had been put right through a graveyard with nary a word said! But, after years of civil rights strife, they couldn't keep their gruesome secret in modern times.
After considerable protests, the remaining bodies were moved out of the way as the freeway was widened. The process took a long time, and the bodies haven't found a final resting place even yet. The proposed "Freeman's Cemetery" is appealing to private donors for funding as this is written. It is supposed to get dedicated on Juneteenth, 1999.
The shameful history of segregation is well demonstrated at the site in mid-1998. As one walks westward from the unmarked African American grave sites, one encounters the Emmanuel Cemetery, for Jewish cadavers. Apparently they were regarded as one step up. Beyond them lie Catholics. Then, across a street, lie the remains of former great powers of the area.
One of them, visible from the street, shows a tall, proud, statue of a Confederate soldier. His back is toward the street. His epitaph gives his name and says, "Here lies one that was true to the teachings of the Old South."
Yes, true in death as well as in life!
To view the proposed new cemetery, exit off Central at Lemon, turn west, then come south (toward downtown) on the service road. Start turning right at the first turnoff to view the other three cemeteries.
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Train magnate Jay Gould made himself famous for all American labor historians by saying, "I can hire half the working class to kill the other half."
He proved his malicious intent by hiring gunmen to murder railroad workers during the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886. The original call for the strike occurred in Sherman, Texas at a Knights of Labor meeting. Gould had been defeated by the union in 1885, but he triumphed in 1886.
Both strikes were led by Texas labor hero Martin Irons. After the big defeat, Irons was blacklisted from his trade as a railroad machinist. He eventually died in poverty in Bruceville, just south of Waco. They put him in a paupers' grave.
Fortunately, the AF of L in Missouri knew Irons and the heroic struggle of the railroad workers. They collected the money for a very nice monument which can be seen at the graveyard on Highway 35 outside Bruceville. It's the biggest monument in the graveyard and a very fine commemoration.
Also fortunately, an economist named Ruth Allen came across the graveyard. She did the research and wrote the only history of the Great Southwest Railroad strike, one of the bloodiest chapters in American labor history. Historians might find fault with Ms Allen's approach and conclusions. But without her, and without the tombstone that the Missourians dedicated, hardly anyone today would know how the Knights battled Jay Gould in Texas.
On November 8, 2002, at the University of Texas in Arlington, Dr Theresa Case of University of Houston did a short talk on her dissertation "The Rise and Fall of the Southwestern Knights of Labor 1885-86: The 1885-86 Gould Railway System Strikes." She said that all the Railroad Brotherhoods (I think there were 16 separate craft unions) were trying to recoup after the tragedy of the 1877 national strike. Railroad Machinists sympathized with industrial unionism as opposed to narrow craft unionism. They wanted everybody who worked for a given railroad to be in the same union so they would have more power against the boss. In 1885, there were cuts, speedup, and unsafe conditions. On March 7, 1885, 400 Gould employees walked off the Wabash in Missouri, and it spread to Texas. Charles Muir (sic) wrote about it. RR officials conceded in a week. The K&L increased membership "like wildfire."
The union was open to everybody except Chinese, Ms Case said. They called for excluding Chinese, but they accepted Blacks. However, there were a lot of segregated locals, Dr Case said. Incidentally, I read elsewhere that they were open to all occupations except lawyers.
District Assembly 101 was headed by Martin Irons. They called a strike because an officer was fired in Marshall in 1886. They tended to ingnore the National K&L and its Master Workman, Terence Powderly. The railroad bosses, under Jay Gould, had reneged on many of their agreements from the 1885 settlement.
Instead of using moral suasion, as strikers had done in 1885, DA 101 relied on taking over roundhouses and killing the steam engines. It took a long time to get them fired up again. The public did not know about Gould's Unfair Labor Practices and did not support the strike. State and federal troops quickly crushed the strike on Texas & Pacific. The Brotherhood of Engineers did not honor the strike to begin with. K&L turned more & more to violence and dangerous physical sabotage of tracks and facilities, Ms Case said.
By March 1886, the strike was over and the K&L was in decline. It never recovered.
Albert (left) and Lucy (right) Parsons are honored on this full-wall mural outside a Teamster Local in Chicago.
The Illinois Labor History Society can lay legitimate claim to Lucy and Albert Parsons. They both gave most of their best contributions in Chicago and both died there. I think Albert was originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and was living with his brother in Waco when he met the beautiful Lucy Gathings.
If you wander around the basement at the Texas State Capitol, you can still find a photo of a Parsons who was a state legislator during Reconstruction. He was Albert's older brother.
But Lucy was from Johnson County, just south of Fort Worth. I heard Dr George Green, respected labor historian from the University of Texas at Arlington, say so.
Ashbaugh's book says that Lucy and Albert claimed to have been married in Austin, but that there is no record of it. I've often wondered if a person might find some record in Johnson County if they looked....
Albert was a great labor organizer and was eventually hanged for having made a speech in Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886. Lucy went on to be a champion of the workers' cause until her death on March 7, 1942! Few people can claim to have lived so well.
For info on the Haymarket martyrs, contact the Illinois Labor History Society, 28 E Jackson, Chicago 60604 (312) 663-4107. They are buried in Waldheim Cemetery outside Chicago. It's an excellent little labor history tour.
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May 1st Is International Labor Day
We probably won't be celebrating Labor Day with the rest of the world, even though it was "Made In The USA". Two Texans had a major part in its creation. Perhaps because they lived nearby, I feel very close to them.
A Confederate war veteran named Albert Parsons came to live in Johnson County. He wooed and married Lucy Gonzalez there. He had a snappy little mustache and sideburns; she was breathtakingly beautiful. They were a dashing young couple. Albert was a young Waco journalist; Lucy was probably the daughter of Texas slaves.
Racism achieved the ascendant hand as America's Reconstruction Era was overcome; that may be why the Parsons moved to Chicago. Albert organized typographical workers; Lucy organized in the needle trades. Both were popular trade union leaders and public speakers.
Naturally, they became spokespersons for the "8 hour day" movement that culminated in a giant demonstration on May 1, 1886. It is that movement and that day in Chicago that are celebrated throughout the world, but not in its homeland.
The American workers were eventually victorious in leading the world to the 8 hour day.
Oh, how I wish the story ended there . . .
But Chicago police shot down some of the May 1st demonstrators. A few days later, another meeting was organized in Haymarket Square in order to protest the shootings. Albert was one of the many speakers. For some reason, the meeting went on and on; consequently Albert and Lucy retired to a nearby restaurant. The police decided to break up the meeting and one of them was killed in the fighting.
In November of 1887, Albert Parsons and several other leaders of the 8 hour day movement were hanged even though no attempt was ever made to connect them with the policeman's death. Lucy was stripped naked and thrown into a jail cell when she tried to see Albert alive for the last time.
Labor unions were divided over the defense of the Haymarket martyrs. Eventually, the side that wanted to condemn them won out and American labor went on to celebrate a Labor Day in September. But most of the world still remembers the 8 hour day movement in Chicago in 1886 on Mayday.
As for me, I always will remember Albert and Lucy Parsons. Every May 1.
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